User Research

How to effectively validate ideas with customers.

Profile photo of Emma Campbell

Emma Maguire (née Campbell)

May 15, 2023

Customer and user researcher standing in a paddock with their backs to us. The user researcher is holding a laptop and discussing something with the farmer. There is a cow in the distance of the paddock.

No doubt you're brimming with exciting new feature ideas you believe will add significant value to your business. However, simply asking customers about their thoughts on these ideas may not be the best way to gauge their chances of success. In this article, we'll discuss why this approach can be risky and provide some tips for validating ideas with customers more effectively.

The risks of asking customers about specific ideas.

It's natural to want to ask customers directly about new feature ideas, but doing so may not give you the insights you need to make an informed decision. For example, when you ask customers what they think about a specific idea, they may be inclined to say they like it, even if they don't. Additionally, customers may not fully understand how a new feature will fit into their current workflow or how it will impact other value propositions of your product or service. As a result, you may invest time, budget, and resources into building something that doesn't have the impact you thought it would.

Another risk of asking customers about specific ideas is feature bloat. Feature bloat is when you continuously add features without considering how they fit together. It can lead to a disjointed experience that ends up frustrating customers rather than helping. Simple solutions suddenly become complex.

Tips for effectively validating ideas with customers.

Instead of asking customers about specific ideas, there are other ways to validate them. Here are our recommendations:

Observe your customers.

Arrange to observe your customers where they naturally interact with your product or service. Watch their interactions, what environmental factors they must deal with and the steps they take to complete a task. Get an understanding of actual use cases. Would your feature or idea fit in with this? Would it help or hinder them? Is it necessary to complete the task?

Indirect questioning.

Instead of asking customers directly about a new feature idea, you should ask questions that help you understand the problem you're trying to solve. For example, if you're considering creating a chat feature that allows users to communicate with support, you could ask questions like:

  • Think of the last problem you encountered - how did you resolve it?
  • What is your preferred way to get support when you have an issue? (eg. text, call, email, in-person)
  • What types of problems have you needed help with in the past?
  • What has prevented you from resolving these yourself?

By asking these types of questions, you can establish why someone might need support and their expectations. You might even uncover that many customers are having the same issues. Therefore, it might be more worthwhile to put time into ensuring they don't occur rather than adding a communication feature.

Create a prototype.

If possible, create a prototype or simulate the environment of your idea to test it in a realistic scenario with your customer. You can create prototypes digitally in software like Figma or even by utilising paper-based prototypes. Alternatively, it could be testing a process or service, such as creating an environment with an issue and prompting the user to resolve it to see the steps they would take and how your team responds. Combining questions and following up with a prototype would be the most useful way to validate ideas. 

We recommend always saving the prototype to the final step so it doesn't introduce any bias from the customer.

Validating ideas with customers is an essential step in the experience design process.

It's crucial to do it in a way that provides meaningful insights and doesn't lead to feature bloat or a disjointed experience. By observing customers in their natural environment, using indirect questions, and creating prototypes, you can better understand their needs, preferences, and pain points. This approach will help you build a better customer experience and avoid investing time and resources into something that doesn't solve the real problem. 

Remember, don't always trust what people say; trust what people do.

Still feeling stuck?

At Bo Studio, we're all about creating great customer experiences. If you're struggling to bring design thinking into your business, or just want to make sure your current project has a user-centric approach, get in touch. We'd be happy to chat and help out however we can.

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